[Review] The Tale of Desperaux

I may have said it before in earlier articles, but one of the challenges of reading to a child frequently is finding books that are entertaining to you as well was your child. It’s similar to what makes the Pixar movies so popular; movies like Cars or Toy Story. On one level, they are fantastic for kids and are great adventure stories, but on another level they are great for the parents, too.

The Tale of Desperaux by Kate DiCamillo is one such book. It had me encouraging my daughter to pick it for the read of the night, just so I could find out what happened next.

The Story

As the subtitle of the book states: “Being the Story of a Mouse, a Princess, Some Soup and a Spool of Thread.” The Tale of Desperaux is a story of a mouse and princess. As with any great love story, they meet at the beginning of the book, are separated, and must find one another once again. Along the way our brave mouse faces dangers, including rats, dungeons and a cook. To find out the rest, you’ll have to read it yourself.

And Old-Fashioned Adventure Story

At it’s heart, The Tale of Desperaux is an old-fashioned adventure story reminiscent of King Arthur, Don Quixote or The Three Musketeers. The writing style of it’s subtitle even suggests this as it’s “Being the Story of…” is very reminiscent of many works of romantic literature.

It doesn’t hide from that fact either. Desperaux, our hero, learns to read, and is inspired at the beginning of the book by a story of a knight and his princess in a very Don Quixote manner. It’s details like this that make the story enjoyable to the parent reading the book, as these allusions would sail right past the little ones being read to.

However, never do the allusions to other literary forms or the more complex vocabulary (“perfidy” for example), get in the way of the story telling. My daughter never once complained that the story was getting boring. I did get a few “what does that mean”s, but that’s to be expected, and most of the time the author herself came to my rescue.

At many points the author also asks questions of “my dear reader.” These were nice breaks from the story, and I was frequently impressed with my daughter’s answers to the questions.

Death is a part of life

Another way that this book is like older adventure stories, is that it doesn’t shy away from death or actual danger. Multiple characters die throughout the book, and the pain and grief felt by the characters affect their actions. It’s refreshing to read a children’s book that doesn’t think the world is made up of rainbows and soft kittens.

Some may take from this that the book might not be good for younger children. However, I don’t think that’s the case. My daughter (who is five and a half) had no problems with it, and actually educated me on how much she already knew about death and dying anyway.

There are some negatives about the book. First, the narrative switches between a few characters, and there are long stretches of time where we don’t see the “main” characters. When we came back, both my daughter and I had to remind ourselves of where that character had left off. This might not be as noticeable if you’re reading the book in a few sittings, but at a chapter or two a night, it threw us off. Second, and it goes along with the first point, is that in switching the narrative focus the author also travels back in time to tell concurrent parts of the story. Again, this threw us off a bit.

Overall, though, a really great story, and one I’m sure my daughter (or maybe just me) will read again when she (or I) gets older.

Grade: B+

Who would like this book: Most any young child. Probably preschool or kindergarten as the youngest, mainly because of the discussions of death. I think young adults would also like this. Heck, adults, too. (Did I say that already?)

Who would not like this book: It does focus quite a bit on the “love” story, so some older boys might find that a bit tougher to swallow. It’s not incredibly fast-paced either, so those with shorter attention spans might get frustrated with it.

8 thoughts on “[Review] The Tale of Desperaux

  1. My children and I listened to this as an audio book and loved it. It was the perfect activity for the entire family to make a 12-hour drive from Virginia to Alabama enjoyable. I’d still like to read the print version, though.

  2. Laura —

    I imagine the audio book would be very good for this, with all the reader interaction. Do you know who read it? The thing the print version that we had going for it were some really interesting pencil drawings every few chapters.

  3. I enjoyed the book, but not as much as I loved her Tiger Rising. Also, I found the character of Miggery to be so tragic as to be almost too painful. That was teh darkest part of the book, I felt.

  4. Girl Detective —

    I agree, Miggery’s character was tragic. I do want to try some of her other books, though, so thanks for the recommendation.

  5. Pingback: Saturday Review of Books: February 14, 2009 at Semicolon

  6. This book tends to catch my eye for several moments at a Book Store or even the Library, but I always put it down before reading the first page and ignore it.

    I’m a little convinced now and maybe this time I’ll check it out.

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